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Supreme Court rule divorced husband should not increase ex-wife payments

Jul 30, 2018

We have been keenly watching the case of Mills v Mills in recent years and last week the Supreme Court made their decision that could have far reaching implications for future divorce proceedings.  Sam Miles, Family Partner, reviews the outcome of the case here and what it means for couples seeking a divorce.

Mills v Mills – the facts

Mr and Mrs Mills were married for 15 years before they divorced in 2002.  She received £230,000 in a lump sum to buy a new home for her and her son, and it was agreed that Mr Mills would also make maintenance payments of £1,100 a month.  Through a series of poor financial decisions, the former Mrs Mills accrued debts of approximately £42,000 and was left having to move to rented accommodation.  

“The journey in the courts began in 2014, when Mrs Mills applied to increase her monthly payments to cover the shortfall between her monthly payments, her cost of living and debt repayments,” explains Sam.  “Mr Mills subsequently applied for the payments to either be ended completely or reduced, based on the fact that his former wife had badly managed her finances; a situation brought about by no fault of his.  The Judge ruled that no variation should be made to the payments, which Mrs Mills appealed.”

The Court of Appeal allowed Mrs Mills’ appeal and ruled that Mr Mills should fund the rental payments in his monthly payments through an increase of £341 per month.  However, the Supreme Court has now overturned that decision following Mr Mills’ appeal and ruled that while Mrs Mills is not be entitled to any additional money, the £1,100 monthly payments should continue.  The basis for their decision was that provision for Mrs Mills’ housing needs had already been met in the original £230,000 payment, and so further financial support to cover this was not deemed appropriate and the responsibility of Mr Mills.

Life after divorce

This case has valuable lessons for those considering a divorce, particularly those who do not work and so rely on the payments from their former spouse to maintain their living.  “The Supreme Court is hoping this case will highlight their desire that a couple achieves financial independence from each other following a divorce,” continues Sam.  “In this case, they did not award the increase as her debts and inability to meet her expenses were the outcome of her own financial decisions, not that of her former husband.”

The case does also bring to the profession’s attention the question of lifetime maintenance obligations.  Currently, Mr Mills will need to continue making payments until his death, Mrs Mills’ death, Mrs Mills’ remarriage or the courts bring it to an end; whichever happens first.

“Lifetime maintenance obligations have been a significant conversation in recent years, and it was hoped that this case would bring a more concrete decision on the future of these,” concludes Sam.  “What we can take from this case however is how a clean break order at the time of divorce can be a useful method to avoid lifetime maintenance obligations, and should be considered at the time of a divorce.  There are many considerations a couple will need to make when they decide to divorce, which not only includes finances but also arrangements for children.  Family mediation is a highly effective way of coming to agreement on these matters, and can pave the way for a more amicable future.”

If you have questions regarding your finances in divorce, or you would like to find out more about how divorce works, you can contact Sam or the family team on 023 8071 7431 or email familyenquiries@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.